2016’s Fighter of the Year is?
By: Matthew N. Becher
Another boxing calendar is coming to an end and that means year end award conversations are taking place. In a year that has seen a lot of craziness, from PED use at an all-time high, to the Heavyweight champion being stripped of his belts, a year with 0 Floyd Mayweather Jr. fights and sharp decline in the Pay per view format, 2016 did still have a number of great boxers deserving of the title “Fighter of the year”. Here are a few who may have had what it took.
Manny Pacquiao: Pacquiao started the year off in April by taking on pound for pound lister and all around top welterweight challenger Timothy Bradley Jr. in what would be their rubber match. Pacquiao announced it would be his final fight in his hall of fame caliber career and that he would retire after the fight, win or lose. Pacquiao entered the fight as an underdog, since he would be coming off nearly a year layoff after his loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and a shoulder surgery that followed. Pacquiao not only beat father time in this fight, but he beat Timothy Bradley as sure handedly as he ever has. He was able to knock Bradley down twice in the fight, and won by Unanimous Decision. After deciding rather quickly that he couldn’t stay away from the sport he loved for very long, Pacquiao then targeted the WBO Welterweight champion Jessie Vargas. Vargas who only has one loss in his career to Tim Bradley Jr. had the age advantage but nothing else. Again Pacquiao became a world champion and with 59 wins in his career, it seems that he is ready to attempt to get number 60 early next year against, hopefully a high quality opponent.
Andrew Ward: Ward is on the list mainly because of the win against Sergey Kovalev last month. He fought 3 times in 2016, which is the most active he has been since 2009. The opponents he defeated, Sullivan Barrera, Alexander Brand and Sergey Kovalev rank from unknown to contender to one of the very best fighters in the sport. Ward is on the list, again, solely for the fact that he had a win over Sergey Kovalev and became the Unified Light Heavyweight champion. Regardless of controversy on the scorecards, he beat an undefeated, top 5 pound for pound champion. He will receive votes, but may be a longshot to actually win the award.
Joe Smith Jr.: Smith is a late addition after last weekend’s win over Bernard Hopkins. Sure, he beat a 51 year old Hopkins, but he is still the first person to ever knock Hopkins out and the way he did so was impressive to say the least. This was Smith’s third win of the year, with an April TKO of Fabiano Pena and a follow up first round KO over Andrzej Fonfara, which is a very heavy favorite for upset of the year. Smith fought two marquee fights in which he was the underdog and winning both of them by show stopping Knock outs.
Terrence Crawford: Crawford will try to follow up his 2014 FOTY award with another ceremony this year. Crawford fought three times in 2016. He knocked out Hank Lundy at the Theater in Madison Square Garden and then unified the division against the top Jr. Welterweight, Viktor Postol. Though the fight did not do great pay per view wise, and was deemed a boring fight, Crawford displayed talent that showed why he is one of the best fighters in the world, completely unarming the very tough and until then, undefeated, Postol. Crawford ended the year back home in Omaha, against a C-level opposition in John Molina Jr., who did not put up much of a fight and Crawford outmatched in every single category. Terrence Crawford will be a Fighter of the Year finalist for many years to come.
Carl Frampton: Carl Frampton is a very big favorite to win the BWAA Fighter of the year award for 2016. Frampton fought twice, both against undefeated fighters, Scott Quigg in Manchester and Leo Santa Cruz in Brooklyn. Frampton beat Quigg by Split Decision to unify the Jr. Featherweight division and ended up breaking Quigg’s jaw in the process. Five months later, Frampton decided to move up in weight to take on the WBA Featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz, and in what many may say was a “Fight of the Year” candidate, was able to defeat the hard nose Santa Cruz. Frampton became a two division champ in 2016, already has scheduled a rematch with Santa Cruz for January 28th in Las Vegas and looks like a man who is ready to take on the toughest guys he can.
Vasyl Lomachenko: Lomo fought twice this year, the 7th and 8th fights of his career. The first fight was against the very tough Rocky Martinez at the Theatre in Madison Square Garden. Lomachenko made easy work of Martinez with a “Knockout of the Year” candidate performance. Martinez had only been knocked out 1 time in his career and that was to a young, prime Mikey Garcia, some good company for Vasyl to be a part of. This win would make Lomachenko a 2 division world champion in only 7 professional fights, which is extremely impressive. He followed that win up with the highly anticipated showdown against undefeated former champion Nicholas Walters. Not only did Lomachenko put on a display of overall boxing brilliance, he made Nicholas Walters, one of the top fighters, if not the top in the division say “No Mas”. Going into the ring and completely beating a man is one thing, but to make a top level fighter quit is something else. Lomachenko is taking the boxing world by storm, and who knows what is next for the 2x Olympic Gold Champion.